A look back at historical same-sex marriage decision for Hawaii

Published  7:19 AM HST Jun 27, 2013
Hawaii equality sign
HONOLULU -

Celebrations happened around the country after the U.S. Supreme Court handed down two decisions regarding same-sex marriage. One of those struck down a key part of the Defense of Marriage Act.

A rally at the State Capitol had hundreds looking forward to a future with same-sex marriage. It also had them looking back at Hawaii's history in the fight for same-sex equality.

More than 20 years ago, three Hawaii same-sex couples sued the state after their marriage licenses were denied. The results of that case led to the Defense of Marriage Act itself.

"For us, getting married was partly a practical matter, a way to take care of protections for our own families. Another part was the emotional matter of wanting respect as a couple and feeling like we were equal," said former Hawaii resident Ninia Baehr.

Baehr was fighting for equal marriage rights for her and her then girlfriend Genova Dancell.

In a historic decision, the Hawaii Supreme court agreed with them - with justice Steven Levinson writing the opinion against same-sex marriage discrimination.

"The law was illegal and unconstitutional as far as I was concerned under the state's equal protection provision," said former Justice Steven Levinson.

The Hawaii decision not only got people around the country talking about same-sex marriage, it also moved many to action.

"As an immediate reaction, it produced the Defense of Marriage Act. Which cited Baehr v. Lewin as the reason for the act," said Levinson.

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Steven Deponte-Merideth was one of those who testified back in that historic case. "When they said they were going to have a hearing for the same-sex case, I went in there and gave my speech. I testified 'I have two brothers, they could get married why couldn't I'." said Deponte-Merideth.

Deponte-Merideth and his husband Butch eventually did get married in California, but now are fighting to have that marriage recognized in Hawaii.

So while there were cheers on Wednesday, there were also chants for more action and equality in Hawaii.

More than 20 years after that landmark decision from Hawaii's Supreme Court, there is vindication from the U.S. Supreme Court over same-sex equality.

"It is very, very gratifying. I'm happy to see the idea has caught on of speaking to people's sense of justice and fairness," said Levinson.

For Baehr, the landmark court decision against the Defense of Marriage Act is a cause for celebration, but it also comes with a sense of relief.

"The Defense of Marriage Act was a bad thing, a backlash from what we had done. We always felt personally responsible for that. To have that wrong righted today is just so fantastic," said Baehr.

Along with Wednesday's celebration, same-sex marriage supporters will hold an informational meeting on July 13th, to go over the changes the decision will have for those who receive federal benefits.

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